Last year Liz Ryerson, a musician, writer, and podcast host (with her own Patreon here
!) pointed toward a Twitter thread by Jaime Brooks that attempted to describe the relationship between musicians, Patreon, and record labels. The entire thread is certainly worth a read but I wanted to highlight these two particular tweets
i believe the patronage model, whether via patreon, via snapchat premium, via onlyfans, via direct donations on cashapp etc. presents an opportunity to create a new independent music industry that isn’t constrained by the conservatism of the existing one
my prediction is that more and more of the most impactful and culturally resonant artists working in indie music are going to be people who are coming from game dev or sex work or political organizing, who are already comfortable with patronage models and radical politics
No matter how many times commentators or journalists write about how Spotify “disrupted” the music industry, the fact is that not a lot has really changed in the last twenty years since Napster. The rise of platform capitalism within music I argued last year can be dated to the late 90s, even before Napster, so in a way we’re already into the third decade of this “new” system. That’s why we’re seeing increased financialization at the top level of the industry, with the few remaining labels and streaming companies doing stock swaps and buying into each other. If Sony Music’s original goal in 1997 was a digital jukebox that would be the primary means of accessing music, many are already living in that world. This presents a real challenge for “independent” artists who understand the streaming system is rigged against them and so are attempting to find new ways to make this work.
What’s offered by Patreon, or even Ampled, a new cooperatively-owned music subscription platform, is a way to be an artist truly outside of that older system. The musician Zola Jesus spoke about this a bit in an interview with Patreon
; she talks about the freedom that comes with being removed from the normal rhythms of the music industry and the ability to build and create one’s personal fanbase. Oddly enough, despite the company’s origins, the community that took up the model wasn’t musicians—far from it. Rather, the highest earning creators are independent podcasters and YouTubers, who essentially only use the platform to collect payment, deliver content via a private RSS feed, or build up community via a Discord server. In fact, little about Patreon is necessary for most creators, except for the fact that it’s become the default platform thousands of creators.
The lack of commitment to Patreon—it’s own fragile business model notwithstanding—shows that for musicians there’s still a rather open playing field in terms of what could be done through a patronage model. The current system of music streaming is a catch-all that wasn’t created with the interests of musicians in mind. Rather, it was just a way to further abstract music from the original creators and put the power in the hands of copyright holders. The patronage model, whether via a Patreon, Ampled, Mixcloud for DJs, or even Bandcamp, can open new doors to new possibilities. This is why I often cite Playing to the Crowd by Nancy Baym; her book talks about how many of these experiments played out when they weren’t mediated by VC-backed companies. The result was not only the formation of unique communities, but also ways of creating relationships between creators and fans that might’ve not been possible under purely capitalist circumstances. That’s what I personally would like to see happen in this space: more sustainable platforms for artists as well as opportunities to create on self-determined terms. That feels like it could lead to small but perhaps meaningful change.